The square was mostly empty when they arrived, but heavily policed. When the atmosphere seemed to turn they left the square and went to a nearby Starbucks. From here they were stopped and searched, illegally detained, and then arrested for ‘breach of the peace’.
They were handcuffed, taken to Belgravia Police Station on the other side of London, and held in cells before being released without charge once the public celebrations were over. All because they were wearing fancy dress.
“I was told by the police, ‘if you’re going to dress like that, you’ve got to expect to be arrested’. And I thought I had to break the law to be arrested…”
– Erich, one of the Starbucks Zombies
Who? What? When? Where? Why?
Who: Five people – a mix of students, writers, queers and film buffs – including Hannah Eiseman-Renyard, Ludi Valentine, Erich and Deborah. They only all met each other a few minutes before they were detained.
What?: Having left Soho Square to get away from oppressive policing tactics (it looked like they may be about to get kettled), they went to get coffee. Police arrived at the Starbucks and asked them to come outside where they were stopped and searched under Section 60, detained despite no apparent threat, and then arrested either for committing a ‘breach of the peace’ or ‘to prevent a breach of the peace’ – depending on which police officer you spoke to. They were handcuffed, driven to Belgravia Police Station and held in cells until the public celebrations were over.
When: They left Soho Square a little after 11:30. They were not in the Starbucks for long (one person was still queueing when the police came in). They were arrested at 12:00 and were released without charge at around 3:45.
Where: Soho Square in London, then at the branch of Starbucks at 55-59 Oxford Street (just off Soho Square), and eventually Belgravia Police Station near Victoria.
Why: Fancy dress. No, really, that’s it. The police interpreted their fancy dress as form of protest, and arrested the Starbucks Zombies ‘to prevent a breach of the peace’. Despite no evidence of violent or criminal intent, the possibility of protest was deemed enough to arrest them. This Orwellian interpretation of public order law is part of a wider pattern of de facto criminalisation of protest.
Seeing the police had grabbed one person for no apparent reason and were lining three of the four exits to Soho Square, the five who had been in Soho Square for a zombie flashmob, decided to leave the area as they may be about to be kettled. They went to a Starbucks on the corner of Oxford Street to get away and have a coffee, but from here they were stopped and searched under Section 60, and then arrested for ‘breach of the peace’.
Having been illegally detained after their stop and search was over, the Starbucks Zombies are arrested by a different group of police officers who were brought in to affect the arrest. As you can see none of the police officers were quite clear on the reasons for the charges and mostly looked embarrassed.
Another of the Starbucks Zombies speaks to Mary Hamilton about her ordeal. She would like the clarify that the powers were Section 60, not Section 16. She also wishes to retract her statement about people “clearly antagonising” the police. “I have since seen footage from up close of what actually happened. From across the square we could just see people getting wound up and loud, and we knew it’d be smart to get out of there fast.”
Hannah Eiseman-Renyard, one of the Starbucks Zombies, has written about her experience. The full post is available here.
“our right to free assembly was revoked and we were illegally arrested and detained simply because the police didn’t like the look of us.
When it comes to battles to fight, I never imagined mine would be the right to dress up like an idiot, but being arrested and detained for nearly four hours is not an expectable, acceptable, or legal consequence of wearing some fake blood.”
– Hannah Eiseman-Renyard, one of the Starbucks Zombies
29/04/2011 Royal wedding: police criticised for pre-emptive strikes against protesters The Guardian
10/05/2011 Activists battle police over right to protest The Independent
20/05/2011 Zombies held in police swoop: Protesters spend four hours in cells on day of royal wedding The Evening Standard
18/11/2011 Royal Wedding Day ‘zombie’ takes cops to court West End Extra